Tag Archives: landnotes

Caroline Spelman: “Me Am Bizarro Minister”

One of the more annoying Superman villains is Bizarro. Not really a villain at all, he’s a kind of bad copy of Superman who just does the opposite of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

Unfortunately, it would appear that Caroline Spelman has decided that this is the perfect job description of a Shadow Cabinet Minister. Don’t actually apply any logic, just oppose everything. Even more unfortunately, no-one appears to have shut her up.

For a while now, the Tories have been shouting to anyone who will listen about the nasty way the government is revaluating the rates in Northern Ireland and making dire predictions that they plan to do the same in England. This is epitomised by this quote by Spelman:

“If Labour introduce this invasive system fully in England, your council tax bill will depend not just on the features of your house, but whether you have good schools or clean streets, and whether you have low or high rates of crime.

“This is the hallmark of an oppressive and greedy government – finding ever more stealth ways to tax working families and pensioners, and trampling over privacy when it suits them.”

Where does one begin with a juicy quote like this? Firstly, the existing system of council tax was a) introduced by the Tories and b) is based on property values. It is a fact, however inconvenient, however poorly measured it might have been in the past, that property values are contingent on “whether you have good schools or clean streets, and whether you have low or high rates of crime”. Always has been, always will be. That’s where the phrase “location, location, location” comes from dear.

There are two alternatives to a system of taxation that is dependent on such things. One is a local income tax, which the Tories condemn with equal venom. The other is a poll tax, where everyone pays exactly the same no matter what. Is this what Bizarro Spelman is suggesting she would prefer?

But it gets worse, because if you analyse this quote she seems to think that it is BETTER to tax people on the basis of the features of your house than external factors.

This is complete, arse over tit, economic Bizarro-logic. Think about it for a second. What she’s saying is that you should be taxed for installing double-glazing but not for benefiting from good local services. I’ve spent quite some time trying to figure out what she would actually approve of, and I’m completely stumped.

Because any changes to the council tax system is ultimately just a change to how the cake is carved up, the only thing one can conclude she is calling for is for poor people living in grotty areas to subisidise rich people living in nice areas to a greater extent than they do now. In this respect, she is less Bizarro and more good old fashioned Tory. Plus ca change.

UPDATE: Oh God, it get’s worse, with Andrew Stunell joining the circle jerk. This is a particularly choice line:

“They often have spent many years in their own home and would now simply become the victims of house price rises over which they have no control at all.”

Run that by me again? People who, due to no effort on their part, see their property values rising exponentially are VICTIMS? Where do I send the condolence card?

Seriously, someone needs to tell Andrew that it is Lib Dem policy now to SUPPORT the principle of property taxation.

Taxation Okey-Kokey

The Observer has been given a sneaky-peak of the Lib Dem’s Taxation Commission’s current thinking and it sounds good. 2p off the basic rate of income tax, paid for by increases in environmental taxation and “tougher tax rules for the wealthy”.

By the latter, I’m taking it to mean, at least in part, to some kind of “progressive property tax,” although Vince Cable’s quotation about share income being taxed at a lower rater than general income suggests reform of capital gains. Nonetheless, I welcome it: the Lib Dems absolutely should be the party of low income tax. These reforms suggest a “direction of travel” that I’m very comfortable with.

But there is a cloud on the horizon however. Read carefully, and it is clear that we are just talking about national income tax here. Existing Lib Dem policy is to replace Council Tax with a local income tax of, on average, 3.5p in the pound. If this policy isn’t significantly changed by the Tax Commission, we would have to go into the general election with the highly confusing policy of saying that, nationally, we want to cut income tax while locally we want to pile it on. In net terms, every taxpayer would end up paying 1.5p more in income tax.

Kiss goodbye to any electoral benefit we might expect from the tax shift, in other words: our message to the electorate would be horribly confused. We wait and see what the Tax Commission come up with, but there seem to be two solutions. The first one is to replace Council Tax with something else, maybe a genuine tax on property that is continually revalued (every 1-2 years for instance, like everywhere else: Council Tax is mostly based on 1991 values and thus has little to do with actual values) and taxes high value property at the same rate as low value property. The Band system of council tax leads to effectively a subsidy on the rich that the middle classes have to pay. Better yet, base it solely on site values and leave the capital entirely out of the equation. The second solution would simply be for our policy to not have a policy: local authorities should be free to raise their taxation however they pleased. Of course, that would be pretty meaningless as a policy if 75% of local government expenditure continued to come from national government: a shift to 50% or even 25% would, at a stroke, give local authorities far more clout, and enable us to drop the basic rate of income tax even more.

The problem is, a lot of senior Lib Dem spokespeople have gone on record to say that our local income tax policy is here to say. It seems to me though that we’ve reached a crunch point: either we think income tax is a good tax that we want to shift the burden onto, or a bad tax that we want to shift the burden away from. There is no middle way or third position. That is the decision the Lib Dems, collectively, have to make over the next 3 months. Fudge this, and all our critics will be vindicated.

Old = new

Thank you Cristina Odone for revealing to me that Kirsty Alsopp, the smug presenter of Location, Location, Location whose latest wheeze is to do a series on the wonders of buy-to-let, is the daughter of the 6th Baron Hindlip. So it turns out that the poster child of new feudalism is in fact a member of the old feudal class. Explains everything, including her near ubiquity in Cameron press launches.

Lest I be accused of attempting to shoot the messenger, I should point out that I agree that programmes like Location, Location, Location are merely the symptom not the cause, and that under the circumstances they probably do help people get onto the property ladder who would otherwise not have a look in. But they aren’t matched with a reforming zeal. From what I can see, the Hon. Allsopp thinks the solution to everything is just to mouth platitudes about the need to build more houses; if it was as simple as that she would be out of a job.